Monday, December 30, 2013

The Big Picture

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

I marvel at the encounters that Jesus has with people. Somehow so simplistic, yet layered in complexity and mystery. So Jesus is getting His crew together, and he "decides" to go to Galilee. He finds Philip, and the only thing that is recorded is that Jesus says, "Follow me." How much did Philip know? What was it about Philip that caused Jesus to choose him? We just know that Philip does follow Jesus. Not only that, he finds Nathanael, and shares what he has found with him. But Nathanael is skeptical. When he finds out that Jesus hails from Nazareth (the hood?), he wonders what good can come from there. But he goes to check out Jesus. 
When he sees Jesus, and Jesus sees him, a bizarre exchange takes place. Jesus greets his as one in whom there is no deceit. Nathanael accepts this compliment, and asks Jesus how he knows this to be true, how does he know anything about Nathanael. Jesus tells him he saw him before he came, even as he was under the fig tree. That's all it takes, Nathanael is convinced Jesus is the Son of God. 
Don't they have a lot of fig trees in Israel? Was Jesus comment really that profound?
Jesus probably chuckled. You think that was impressive? Wait til you see what else is in store...

Thought for the Day:  So much is missing from this story. But we really don't need the details. I wonder how many sermons could legitimately come from such a text. This is a puzzle piece to me. So many questions I want answered, so many questions left unanswered. Just an odd little piece in a much bigger picture. Yet it is still important. I don't think God wastes time putting anything in Scripture. I just don't get all of it. And that is true of many things in life. I don't get why they happen, but they do and I don't think God is oblivious to them. If he knows the number of hairs on my head, I doubt anything else escapes him either. So I ask my questions, not always getting an answer. I am okay with that. I have to be.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What's you name?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?”And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them,“Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

John was with two of his disciples, one of whom was Peter's brother Andrew. John proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God as he walked by, and they followed Him. Jesus noticed and questioned them, saying something along the lines of "What are you looking for?" They returned by questioning where Jesus was staying. Jesus invited them to come and see. Then they stayed with Him for that day. In this short amount of time, whether by John's proclamation or by being with Jesus or both, Andrew became convinced of the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. So he went and told his brother, and brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at Peter (who at that time was called Simon) and said he shall be called Peter.

Thought for the Day: What would you think if someone met you and immediately decided that you should be called by another name? Was this like being called by a nickname, which many wear as a badge of honor, or was it like taking away his given name and changing it, which many would find offensive? Apparently, Peter did not find it offensive, as we know that he followed Jesus from that point forward. So what name would Jesus have for me if he were to meet me today?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Here's the plan...

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Someone sent John to baptize. I can only imagine that to be God, with the message being delivered via an angel. He was sent to baptize and to prepare people for the coming Messiah. He was told how to recognize the Messiah, by the ascending of the Spirit in a form like a dove. And this John proclaims to be the Son of God. 

Thought for Today: As I look at the events in the life of Jesus, I see that God used obedient people (such as John and Mary, and also Paul comes to mind) to communicate who Jesus was and help to understand what His mission was. He still does that today, even though Satan does a good job of muddying the waters with many counterfeits. I want to be one of those people. I struggle with that at times because I struggle to know and understand what God wants from me. He has given me his grace, and I want to live in such a way that shows that to others. Not by eating locusts and wearing camel hair, although if that is what it takes, so be it. But more so just by knowing, understanding, and being able to communicate who Jesus is and what He has done for me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Who are you?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Testimony of John the Baptist

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight[g] the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John came to bear witness to the light, that is, Jesus. His (Jesus') own, those who did not want to associate with Him, went to John as questioned who he was. I don't think they came in honesty, but rather they came seeking ammunition to discredit either John or Jesus. Perhaps they were hoping to stir up some rivalry between the two. But John did not go for it. He made it clear that he was not the Christ. He also stated that he was not Elijah. For their understanding was that Elijah would come again before the Messiah. (He was not Elijah, but did come in the Spirit and power of Elijah).

So who are you, they asked, because we need to give an answer to those who sent us. (Speaks a little to their motivation, doesn't it?) So John told them what he was doing, making straight the way of the Lord. He was making it plain for people, because the way had been so confused and forgotten. The way had become all about following a list of rules to the T, but John's ministry was one of cleansing and forgiveness. It was about a spiritual healing and becoming whole before God once again. That is why he baptized.

But he was not the Messiah. John only baptized with water. There was one who was greater. One whom John was not worthy of. One who would ultimately give John's baptism meaning by his sacrifice: Jesus.

Thought for Today: As we come into this season, do we understand and appreciate the role of Jesus? There have always been things to distract us from that role. The Jews were distracted so much by their legalism, that God needed to send John to set things straight. Doing good things is important, placing a few dollars in a kettle or helping a needy family at this time of year are great things, but they are not salvation. John understood this. He understood that salvation came as a gift from God alone, through Christ alone. And that apart from Jesus, such things do not make us worthy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

There is no absolute truth? Or is there?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

God became a man and lived among men. Sometimes I wonder which was harder, confining Himself to flesh, or living among those of the flesh. But even in the flesh, His glory shone out to those whom God revealed Him to, for He was full of beauty and revealed an absolute truth. John's testimony confirmed His divinity, for though John was born first, he proclaimed that Jesus came before him. 

I love the translation for the word grace that is given in Strong's. "That which brings joy. Moses gave the law, Jesus gives that which brings joy. Joy to the world. And truth is not just truth, it is "truth in any matter under consideration." Not worldly, situational truth, but the only truth. Jesus, in giving us grace and truth, has shown us the Father.

Thought for Today: We long for truth. We watch courtroom dramas, hoping that the truth will come out and the innocent be proven innocent and the guilty be held accountable. Jesus brings us not "a" truth, but "the" truth. And in doing so has revealed His Father to us. In today's world, we have turned truth into a marshmallow. We are told that we must tolerate many truths and that any truth we hold on to is not absolute. In fact, we are told, there are no absolute truths. But look at that last statement. Is that last statement itself not stated as an absolute truth?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Got a light?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

The true light, Jesus, who shines the truth to all, came into the world. A world that he made. Yet the inhabitants of this world did not recognize their own creator. The word inhabitants is not in there, but I take that to be the inferred meaning. Or does it mean the world or universe itself (cosmos) did not recognize him? Even though at times the universe is given such characteristics (the rocks cry out, the universe groans) I find it hard to interpret such a meaning here. We, humans, did not recognize our creator. Perhaps because he did not meet our Godly expectations. He looked like one of us. And not even the greatest one of us at that. Even his own, which I take to mean the Jews, did not welcome Him. 

But some did. Somehow, some were able to see it. I still cannot help but think that that ability is a gift from God. I looked up the words translated "receive" in verses 11 and 12. It is interesting to note that they are not the same words. The first one means something along the lines of "associate with," as in his own would not even associate with him. The second carries the idea of "taking what is one's own," or "making something your own." Add that to the idea of believing, trusting, putting our confidence in Him, and you have salvation, here expressed as a right to become a child of God.

So here comes the struggle for many. This was not accomplished by blood. I take this to mean that salvation is not an inherent right just because you were born human. Throws a wrench in the whole universalist theology of salvation of all mankind. And, this was not accomplished by the will of the flesh (will can also be translated choice) nor of the will of man. I find it interesting that flesh and man are both listed, as if a specific point was being made here. Your flesh did not choose this, neither did you. It was God's choice. 

Thought for the Day: Salvation is more than just a head knowledge, and likely also much more than even a mere association with Jesus (so much for all those Sunday School Perfect Attendance pins!) I, too, like Amy Farrah Fowler, am baffled by the notion of a deity who takes attendance. Salvation is us making Jesus our own. A relationship that has a certain level of depth as well as dependence. It implies a level of confidence and trust. And perhaps that is something that is out of our reach, without the help of God Himself.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Anyone got a light?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

God sent a man named John. I like that the meaning given for John is "God is a gracious giver." Truly what can be thought of as a more gracious gift, than the gift that John was sent to proclaim. John came to bear witness to the light. I find that amazing. Jesus was light, yet the darkness of man was so deep, that the light itself needed proclamation to be seen. John himself was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

Thought for the Day: How was it that John was able to bear witness to the light? This had to come to John as a gift from God Himself. And Matthew sheds some light on this when he tells us that even before birth, when his mother met the mother of Jesus, John leapt for joy in the womb. It was not an education that led John to do what he did, but the Holy Spirit. We are but human, in darkness. Our only hope is found in Jesus, the true light of the world. Our prayer should be that the Spirit will reveal Him to us, that we would not quench the Spirit, but submit to that revelation.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What if?

What if I could read the Bible without preconception? I find that easier said than done. I have, as I believe we all are, somewhat ruled by how we perceive things to be. But what if I just read the Bible for what I could glean from it in spite of my preconceptions? Maybe along the way I would find some challenging thought that might help me grow. So I want to try and apply this as I read through the Gospel of John. What is God trying to teach me, through the Holy Spirit, as I trust in His word? Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So in the beginning there was the Word, Logos, which I interpret as a manifestation of Christ. This then tells me that Christ has always been in existence, and is in fact God Himself. As I currently understand it, a part of a mysterious trinity that encapsulates who God is. A part of, yet independent of in some way, for it says that He (the Word) was with God. How can I be with myself? So perhaps there is a togetherness along with an independence? Yet there is only one God. Jesus affirms this when He states that He and the Father are one. Confusing. Perhaps I don't need to understand all there is to know about this.

And all things were made through Him (the Word). And also in Him was life, and our very cause for existence. That's how I take the word "light," because light gives understanding. Without light in a dark room, we wander about not knowing if we will trip over something, run in to a wall, or other such happenstance. The Word gives life purpose and meaning, because it gives understanding. 

The light shines in the darkness. When the light is on, the darkness goes away. In this case I take the darkness to be a lack of understanding. Darkness does not overcome light, light overcomes darkness. You can't go into a room and turn on darkness, you create darkness by turning off the light. I like the KJV rendering of the word "overcome." It translates it "comprehended" which leads to a somewhat different understanding of verse 5. Instead of the darkness not being able to overcome the light, the darkness cannot even understand the light. I think of people with whom I have had conversations about many issues, and it seems like sometimes they cannot even imagine things I might speak of. Or I think of Jesus and His dealings with the religious leaders of the day. They just could not comprehend things being the way that He said they were. 

Thought for the Day: I don't want to live in darkness. Jesus has appeared as a light in the darkness. So if I want to escape the darkness of my own self, I have to let go of my humanity and try to grasp what the God of the Universe is doing through His Son. That is not an easy task!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rethinking Church

00:41  What does the word of God say about the church?

Chan offers 4 things that embodies the church of the Scriptures. They are...

  1. Love. Family/sacrificial love
  2. Getting the message out (a priority)
  3. Gathered - focused on communion and community
  4. Equipping and Training took place
Is that the church you see today? 

I love when he compares the church of today verses the church of the Scriptures, saying it is like going to the movies instead of going to the gym. (around 03:50) 

Is there a better way to do church? As one who struggles with the institutional church, I am always interested in hearing new ideas. And I have a deep respect for Francis Chan. But is this a viable answer? Is building house churches and then regularly splitting them up better than what is in place now? The jury is out for me right now. Any thoughts?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Flip a coin

Paul says our salvation "depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 250). Kindle Edition.

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6, v. 44).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 259). Kindle Edition.

These Scriptures seem pretty specific. And to be honest, downright scary. Because as I understand them, they mean that salvation is out of my hands, and I don't like that. I guess I prefer the formulas, the guarantees.

But then there are those Scriptures which seem to say the opposite. Philippians 2:12 comes to mind. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." 
That sounds better, because now I am back in control.

But which is it? Am I in control or not? Perhaps I should just flip a coin. Or not.

Here is my take. Salvation completely depends on God. Not even 1% can be attributed to me, no works, no decision on my part, nothing. I know that many would disagree with me, and I am okay with that. I understand how hard it is to accept such thinking. And even for those who agree, there are many divergent paths from this point forward. Not time to discuss those now.

That being said, I don't know who God has chosen and who is not chosen. Therefore, since I am the instrument of God, I obey and carry the Gospel with obedience and great care. And one of the things that I must be careful of is not to get the big head, thinking more of myself than I ought just because God has chosen me. This is the God of the universe we speak of, and I am but a mist. I should never forget that.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why religion stinks

A church that is deeply aware of its misery and nakedness before a holy God will cling tenaciously to an all-sufficient Savior, while one that is self-confident and relatively unaware of its inherent sinfulness will reach for religion and morality whenever it seems convenient.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 243). Kindle Edition.

Makes sense, because I believe that the same could be said of the individual. Institutions, just like individuals, need humility. I think that is something that is incredibly lacking in the American church. But if you are a regular reader here, you already know that.

There is just something about nakedness that bothers most people. When we are naked, are flaws are exposed. Especially as I grow older, I have a tendency to buy looser fitting clothing. It is as if I think you won't notice my flaws because you can't tell the folds in my sweater from the folds in my flab.

So imagine standing "naked" before God. Not only are your flaws exposed, but they are exposed in the light of his perfection. That is why when we do stand before God, the only confidence that can possibly mean anything is our confidence in Christ alone. Alone. In Christ alone. Notice the clinginess. Like hiding behind the big kid in dodgeball, only better.

Which is why religion and morality ultimately stink.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


If you enjoy great voices in harmony, acapella, then you should enjoy this.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The fate of the church

The kingdom of God is something we are receiving, not something we are building (Heb. 12:28). The Lord of the church did not say, "Build my church"; he said that on the "rock" of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 233). Kindle Edition.

How wonderful to know that the fate of the church is in the hands of God, and not sorry sinners such as myself! I find so much peace in that thought.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The butler didn't do it

We may think that it is we who need to serve God rather than vice versa. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us as he told Peter that this is actually an insult, a form of pride. We are the ones who need to be bathed, clothed, and fed, not God.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 229). Kindle Edition.

Doesn't the Bible teach both? That we serve God (Romans 12:1-2) and that He serves us? I think the key word in the quote is "need." God does not "need" us to serve Him, but we do need Him to serve us.

Now that can be twisted. I am not talking about God serving me by fulfilling my every desire. Yet without the cross, without the sacrificial service of Christ, we are doomed. We need that. Without God's daily provision to keep our bodies functioning, the world spinning, the sun providing warmth and energy, we are gone. We need God, and it is this realization that both humbles and empowers us. At least it should.